“Aslan is on the Move”

Luke 9:51-62

“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem.”

In C.S. Lewis’ book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, four children find their way into a magical land called Narnia ruled by an oppressive queen – the White Witch – who forces all of Narnia to live in an eternal winter. I’m not sure, but I understand that it’s sort of like February here two years ago.

Near the beginning of the book, the children, wandering through the woods looking for a friend, stumble upon movement in the snow and go closer, wondering what it might be.

“Whatever it is,” says Peter [, the eldest boy], “it’s dodging us. It’s something that doesn’t want to be seen.”

“It’s — it’s a kind of animal,” says Susan [, the eldest girl].

Then follows Lewis’s careful description:

“They all saw it this time, a whiskered furry face which had looked out at them from behind a tree. . . . [T]he animal put its paw against its mouth just as humans put their fingers on their lips when they are signaling to you to be quiet. Then it disappeared again. The children all stood holding their breath.”

The children eventually find themselves taken in by what turns out to be a talking beaver, whose name is, well, Beaver. Beaver tells them many things of Narnia and the White Witch, including telling them about Aslan, the Lion, Narnia’s hope — and as many of you know, Aslan is one of the Christiest-Christ-Figures ever to grace the pages of literature.

Early on in the book, though, we don’t learn much of the character of Aslan himself, except what Beaver tells us on that cold winter night. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Beaver tells them: “They say Aslan is on the move — perhaps already landed.”

Lewis continues the story:

“And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don’t understand but in the dream it feels as if it had some enormous meaning — either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into the dream again. It was like that now. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside.”

Last week, we talked about how freedom can be scary: like a “blast of cold wind that burns your face when it wakes you up.” This week, the fear comes in full force. The kind of words that, if you grasp them, might make you jump a little inside:

“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem.”

Jerusalem was not prosperous or joyful in those days. Though it was not in eternal winter it, too, was governed by an oppressive ruler: the Roman Empire.

Luke’s Gospel, you see, is the first part of a two part series, of which the book of Acts, after John’s Gospel in the Bible, is Part II. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus begins outside of Jerusalem and begins to move towards the Holy City, setting his face towards it, then going there to die — at the hands of the Romans and the religious authorities — only to be raised on the third day. After that, when he ascends, Jesus says “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth!”

Everything moved towards Jerusalem, Jesus died and was raised, the world was turned upside down, and then everything radiates from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.

And it begins when Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem.

Aslan is on the move.

Jesus is on the move. Freedom is on the move. And everyone in the passage begins to feel quite different.

What follows in our Gospel text for today is a set of seemingly unrelated stories. We are told that Jesus sends his disciples out ahead of him to a Samaritan town, and that they “did not receive him” because his face was set towards Jerusalem. Luke does not tell us the content of their objections. He does not tell us if they insulted him or refused to listen to him or argued with him. What we do know is that their rejection was harsh enough for the disciples to suggest calling down fire from heaven to consume them. Whatever it was, it seems clear to me that not only did these Samaritans really not get it, but they were really harsh and ugly about it.

So the disciples ask if they should call down fire on these morons.

We may get down on the disciples here, but if you’ve ever read the comments on a Huffington Post Religion piece on Facebook, you understand.

But Luke tells us that Jesus turns and “rebukes them harshly.” There will be no calling down holy fire on his enemies. And abruptly, they move on.

Aslan is on the move.

Jesus is on the move. Freedom is on the move.
And so Jesus and the disciples move on, and a series of people come up to him and tell him that they will follow him. If Jesus is on the move, they feel a strong sense that they need to go with him, with one exception: each has a seemingly legitimate excuse of what they need to do beforehand: burying fathers, saying goodbye to families.

But Jesus responds with a series of perplexing statements: one about having nowhere to lay his head, one about how a man cannot follow if he goes back to bury his father, and yet another where Jesus tells someone that he’s not fit for the kingdom because he wants to go back and say goodbye to those at his home.

This seems harsh. Is Jesus being a jerk here? A man can’t go to his father’s funeral if he wants to follow? And is it really so much to ask to go back and say goodbye before giving your whole life to something? This seems out of character with the loving, caring Jesus: the one who teaches us to love one another and points us towards a better way of being with one another. It seems hard to believe that that Jesus would encourage someone to leave without saying goodbye.

Unless.

Unless it’s really that urgent. Unless something is happened that does not allow time for goodbyes or funerals.

Aslan is on the move.

When I was a hospital chaplain, we chaplains were required to attend every Code Blue in the hospital. For those of you unfamiliar with hospitals, a Code Blue is a life-threatening situation, usually a cardiac or respiratory arrest. It is an “all hands on deck” call. Our primary job in these situations was to offer as much comfort as we could to the families: standing with them if they wanted to be in the room with their loved one while the medical team worked, sitting with them in the waiting room if they didn’t, being a liaison between the family and the medical staff when necessary. While we were not a part of the medical team, the medical staff at Emory highly valued us for our ability to attend to the family while they were attending to the patients. We were encouraged to operate on the same timeline as the rest of the code team: get there in five minutes or less.

As the experienced chaplain who trained me encouraged: “So get there in three.”

Those of you who have ever dealt with significant crises at work on a regular basis will understand: when a code happened, there was no time to finish what you were doing. In fact, if you did not react immediately, you were a huge jerk that was going to throw the whole team off.

If you had just sat down to eat your dinner, you weren’t getting dinner. There was no time. Throw it away or, if you’re lucky enough to be with someone else, have your colleague put it in the mini-fridge. You must respond to the code. There was no time to wrap up your conversation or even go to the bathroom. When the code happens, your job is to respond. Now.

This helps me shed a little light onto what was happening as Jesus set his face to go towards Jerusalem.

The code had been called. Freedom was on the move. Jesus had set his face towards Jerusalem and redemption was on its way. There was no time for anything but attending to it. Why would you want to? The world is about to be turned upside down.

You see, good religion has a reputation of being nice. Nice, peaceful, slow, quiet, undemanding. It offends and scares us when it is anything but those things because we think immediately of those who abuse religion for violent and harmful purposes. But if those who use religion for harm are the only ones with any sense of urgency, where does that leave us?

The world is always being turned upside down.

Jesus here points us towards something different. We are called not to violence but to radical love — made even more urgent by the violence that is done in the name of religion every day. Jesus calls us out of complacency and tells us to say goodbye to life as we know it. We are called to something new.

Aslan is on the move. Something is afoot.

Freedom is on the move, and it’s happening now. We are part of the Jesus movement that started way back then. People are still hurting. And God is still redeeming. There are people to be loved and fed. There are people hurting who need to hear the rumor of hope repeated just as Beaver did to the children: despite all evidence to the contrary, Aslan is on the move.

Jesus is still on the move, sending the Spirit to blow through new and unexpected places every day. The code has been called and there’s no time for dinner. It is a call to freedom: liberating and scary, all at once. It changes everything. And it requires an immediate response.

Jesus has called us to love all, welcome all, accompany all who are on this journey. People are hurting and there is no time to spare. I like to believe that the Jesus who loves us all fiercely has called us to get there in five minutes or less.

So let’s get there in three. Amen.

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